Chateau de Cormatin

This morning our ship docked in Macon, a river port town in the south of Burgundy. We ate lunch on the boat and then split into three different activity groups. Months ago, when we booked our trip, we were give a choice of three activities for today. We had to make our choices well in advance so bookings could be made with the attractions, buses etc. The Freechoice activities (as Scenic calls them) were either a cooking class in the town, a trip to a truffle farm or a visit to a historic chateau. We chose the latter.

At 2.30pm we left the ship and boarded buses. Large numbers had opted for the chateau so we needed two buses. The bus journey from Macon to the small rural village of Cormatin took about 45 minutes and covered a distance of 40km. The route took us through green farming land. There were very few vineyards in this part of Burgundy. Apparently there once were, but the soil was not considered optimal for growing vines and now cattle have replaced them. So I guess this region of Burgundy will be better known for its cheeses than its wines. One town we went through, Cluny, is famous for its dressage training. There were hundreds of horse floats in a large car park, and across the road many smartly dressed riders were putting their horses through a number of different equestrian skills. I saw what appeared to be dressage and showjumping taking place in the sort of arenas gymkhana events occur in.

Walking into the grounds of the chateau, you are immediately confronted by the main building itself. It is surrounded by a wide moat and it towers over you as you walk towards it. It was always meant to be both impressive and imposing. The chateau was constructed in the early 1600s to display the might, wealth and prestige of a group of powerful marquises. The stone used in construction was quarried nearby.

A glance at the chimneys high above the ground revealed a stork sitting on a nest. Apparently it’s quite common to find one there.

Our guide was eager to take us inside the building. If we had expected the colours and decor inside the building to mirror the external appearance of the chateau, we were misguided.

We entered the apartments of the family who once lived there. The most likely word to describe the decor and colour schemes of the rooms is ‘flamboyant’. From floor to ceiling (and even right across the ceiling) the rooms were painted in bold colours – often reds and blues. Large artworks, including sculptures, paintings and tapestries, adorned the walls. Finely crafted period furniture was present in every room. The room that intrigued me the most was the ‘cabinet of curiosities’, a room where anything connected with scientific knowledge was displayed – a human skull, a turtle shell, sea shells etc all formed part of the clutter. The kitchen was massive. There you could find a very early device for turning a spit roast, a large wood fired oven, and a vast array of shiny copper cooking implements.

And just as the building and the rooms were meant to display wealth, power and influence, so too were the gardens. Typical of other fabulous French gardens, they were laid out in geometric patterns that were clearly visible from the upper floors of the chateau. There was a maze with a central tower and spiral staircase in the middle where you could climb to a vantage point and watch the hapless guests as they tried to find their way through the labyrinth. Other parts of the garden that appeared typically French included well manicured topiary trees and large hedges. And there was a fountain placed as a feature in the centre of the garden, with water spouting from the mouths of four tortoises – you could say it was a poor man’s tortoise fountain in comparison with the famous tortoise fountain at Versailles.

It was a really fascinating place to visit, but the sun overhead was quite strong. Although the day was only about 25 degrees, it felt much warmer than that when there was little shade in the garden to keep you out of the sun. So I think most of us were hot and a bit tired and grateful to get back on the bus with the cool air jets going above our heads as we headed home. Once again, the green farmland we drove through was quite beautiful. Now late in the afternoon, the cows had come out to graze and we passed quite a few small herds. I think this activity was well received by everyone who attended, although back on the boat at the 6.45pm briefing, it was the truffle farm that got the biggest cheer. But I really enjoyed seeing the chateau – I just wouldn’t want to live there.

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